Every year in the UK alone, almost three hundred thousand tonnes of old clothing end up in our household bins.
With many of these garments made from nonbiodegradable synthetic materials such as virgin polyester, thousands of tonnes of textiles are destined to stick around in our landfills for hundreds of years.
The generation of textile waste is problematic, as incineration and landfills—both inside and outside Europe—are the primary end destinations.
World trade in used textiles rose back up to $4.05bn in 2017/18, this is an area people are currently profiting from. At £1,021/t in 2018, it was 8% below the highest value on record (£1,115/t in 2013) but still 5% above the 10-year average (£973/t). but still a profitable area, most of these end in Eastern Europe and Western Africa. Collection rates are currently 30 to 35 percent on average, and we are a good at this as country but the amount is rising beyond management. Neem London is beginning to work on a project on the ground in Ghana, more about this next year.
I believe firmly that the industry has to change, up till now there has been a focus on sourcing the product at the lowest possible price, I've been lucky enough to visit factories all over the world from Bangladesh to Peru and continually there was a commitment to moving the product to the lowest region. Retailers care deeply about the cost of the product up to the warehouse door, but take little responsibility for the product once it has been sold, in fact the old system of a barcode on the product is only relevant for the retailer up to the product being sold.
Here at Neem London we believe in extended producer responsibility, this is policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility – financial and/or physical – for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products. I believe this needs to be introduced into UK law for garments, this could either be through a small tax on all products that cannot be recycled and support from these retailers for new collecting, sorting, and recycling schemes. From 2024 this is being introduced for packaging. This will mean that packaging producers will pay the full cost of managing packaging once it becomes waste.
This will encourage producers to use less packaging and use more recyclable materials, reducing the amount of hard to recycle packaging placed on the market.
This needs to go further and retailers need to take responsibility – in fact a McKinsey report recently stated Fibre-to-fibre recycling at scale can help address Europe’s waste problem by turning waste into value, they estimate that capital expenditure investments in the range of €6 billion to €7 billion would be needed by 2030. Their analysis indicates that this industry could—once it has matured and scaled—become a self-standing, profitable industry with a €1.5 billion to €2.2 billion profit pool by 2030, retailers need to support his through a tax on the products they are bringing in, if they can’t be recycled.
At Neem London we only use low emitting yarns such as recycled cottons, biodegradable and renewable wools and regenerative cotton (a revolutionary farming method of cultivating cotton which seeks to upturn the environmental effects of industrial farming), all of which post-consumer use can be recycled.
Extended producer responsibility needs to be introduced into UK law, many garments brought into this country can and will only be burnt or landfilled and currently changes are not being made fast enough – polyester, viscose and acrylic are the worst culprits and those retailers who still state other on the label need to be shamed or at least pay for the exploitation?!
EPR incentivises producers to design their products to make it easier for them to be re-used, dismantled and/or recycled at end of life.
Defra plans to review and consult on Extended Producer Responsibility by 2025, At Neem we already take responsibility for our product post-use, any garment bought from us and worn well, can be sent back to us, we will handle the waste. The system needs to change, and we are proud to bring recycled clothing into the market and to become a waste collector of the future.